Two of Anne Arundel County's state lawmakers say they want to make Maryland's highways safe for school children. But critics insist theirproposals might do more harm than good.
Delegate Charles W. "Stokes" Kolodziejski, D-Carvel Beach, has introduced a bill requiring seat belts in all new school buses purchased after July 1.
And Delegate Joan Cadden, D-Brooklyn Park, said a bill she has introduced would educate the public to drive more carefully and slowly on designated roads near schools.
Kolodziejski, a delegate since 1983, said he decided to push for the seat-belt law after his 12-year-old grandson, Jason, was hurt in a school bus accident early last month.
Jason suffered minor injuries when the bus collided with anoth
er vehicle, he said.
"Everybody else has to wear seat belts," Kolodziejski said, "why don't we provide seat belts for our children?"
Opponents in the past have claimed seat belts could do more harm than good in school buses.
"The professionals who run the school buses in Maryland -- that's the drivers, the contractors, the transportation supervisors -- are opposed to seat belts in school buses," Barbara Neustadt, a lobbyist for independent school bus contractors, said yesterday.
Neustadt said school buses are already designed with high, cushioned seat backs to cradle children like eggs in a carton.
"We just don't think (seat belts) work, and they present an enormousproblem," said Neustadt, an Annapolis resident. "Kids twirl them around or they attach them across the isles."
Kolodziejski said he doesn't believe children will misuse the seat
"When my grandchildren ride in my car, they wear seat belts," Kolodziejski said. "They don't seem to have any problems wearing them there."
If his bill accomplishes nothing else, Kolodziejski said it may signal the Detroit automakers to begin redesigning school buses with seat belts in mind.
Kolodziejski said he hopes to succeed where previous efforts to require seat belts have failed by reducing the cost to bus contractors.
Unlike earlier proposals, Kolodziejski said his bill would phase in the seat belt requirement as the school bus fleet is replaced.
"That way it wouldn't cost any extra money," Kolodziejski said. "If it takes 20 or 30 years, all the school bus fleets will have seatbelts eventually."
Cadden said her bill would establish "school speed zones" with a uniform system of signals, crosswalks, and trafficcontrol devices throughout the state.
Anne Arundel, Frederick andPrince George's counties have been rebuffed in the past when they asked the State Highway Administration to reduce speeds on state-owned roads near school entrances. Existing law gives the SHA discretion onspeed zones.
The SHA opposed a similar speed zone bill introducedby Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, D-Brooklyn Park, last year. An SHA trafficengineer said posted speed and types of signals used should reflect hazards on individual roads. Jimeno's bill passed the Senate, but failed in the House Judiciary Committee.
Parents and school board officials have lobbied for a speed zone bill for two years. In November 1988, a 14-year-old girl attempted a midday -- across Ritchie Highwaynear Glen Burnie High School, was struck by a tractor-trailer and died.
Members of the Glen Burnie Improvement Association unanimouslypassed a resolution Tuesday night to support the speed zone bill. Barbara Turner, who heads the civic group's education committee, said she plans to testify for the bill at the State House, armed with the resolution.
The House Judiciary Committee will hear both bills on Feb. 19 at 1 p.m.